I am writing this inspired little essay at the beginning of a new year. By now people have welcomed 2015 with party poppers, cocktails, cheers and spontaneous choruses of Robert Burns’ poem “Auld Lang Syne.” A new year always brings with it the promise of a clean slate. The hope for new opportunities, self improvement and better days ahead. All well and good. And all the more reason you should visit a cemetery.
Some will tell you that the past is the past. Don’t look over your shoulder and don’t wallow in regrets. Perhaps. But I’d like to suggest you make time to visit a cemetery. Preferably on a day when you’re not rushed. Here are three reasons why.
First, to pay your respects and remember. Most of us have loved ones who have passed on. A few days ago I drove to the cemetery where my father and maternal grandparents are laid to rest. I brought with me a nice poinsettia plant for my grandparents’ grave stone and a Hershey’s candy bar for my father’s (he was a hopeless “chocoholic”).
I remember reading once that each of us has two deaths. The first is when we pass away. For a time our families remember us and reminisce. But with each subsequent generation, the memory of us becomes blurry. In time we are completely forgotten and that is our second death. By taking the time to visit the cemetery where your loved one is buried, you are paying your respects. It’s a way to honor who they were and all that they did for you. Funny how we rush about during the holidays to buy presents and attend parties but often overlook this simple act of paying our respects and giving thanks to the ones who helped shape us.
The second reason you should visit a cemetery is to reflect on your life. I remember well the day my father bought his own grave plot. He brought me along and after the paperwork was done we visited my grandparent’s gravestone. My Dad gazed around the cemetery and said, “Look at all those stones, Johnny. Each one represents a life. Marriages, divorces, losses, financial struggles, successes. We all spend our lives trying to avoid this place but death is inevitable. I guess the trick is to live a good life.” I never forgot my father’s remarks. We are all born terminal, as he used to say. Visiting a cemetery affords us the chance to reflect on our lives and the loved ones who helped raise us.
The third reason for visiting a cemetery is to give you some serious focus about the future. There’s nothing quite like standing in a cemetery after the holidays, on the cusp of a new year, pondering your future direction. You have a silent audience of departed souls to remind you that your choices matter. A quiet cemetery on a brisk winter day concentrates the mind. You’ll be able to ask the hard questions. Am I being a good enough father? Should I cut down on the drinking? Will I finally get in shape? Is this the year I make my business take off?
As I mentioned above, give yourself some time for your cemetery visit. Don’t rush yourself. There will be plenty of time in the year ahead for rushing. Just stroll around for a bit. Breath in the crisp air. Pay your respects to loved ones if they are there, or simply say hello to all the others. Reflect and look ahead.
Your life has meaning and purpose. And some day it will end. The cemetery will remind you of that. But it will also give you clarity and focus. And clarity and focus is what you need to use in charting the path ahead. May it be a good path for you.